Located in south-central New Hanover County, west of U.S. 421 and just north of Monkey Junction, Silver Lake is a relatively narrow, worm-shaped lake running on a roughly north-south axis.
As Kemp Burdette of Cape Fear River Watch and others have noted, that shape is nothing like typical Carolina bay lakes, the ones usually associated with the meteor theory.
Carolina Bay lakes — like Lake Waccamaw in Columbus County and White Lake and Singletary Lake up in Bladen County — are normally oval-shaped, shall0w, oblong, and oriented on a consistent northwest-to-southeast axis.
Of course, not all Carolina bays are lakes. (The “bay” in the name is thought to refer to the bay trees, which often grow in a Carolina bay’s boggy soil.) A number of Wilmington neighborhoods — much of Pine Valley, for instance — are built on former Carolina bay areas. Naturalist Andy Wood thinks there might be a Carolina bay or two in the Silver Lake vicinity.
Carolina bays aren’t always in the Carolinas either. There are hundreds of these shallow, boggy formations, covering the Eastern Coastal Plain of the United States from Delaware to northern Florida. The greatest concentration, however, is in Southeastern North Carolina, particularly in Bladen County.
The space theory for the formation of Carolina bays was popularized by Chapel Hill geologist W.L. Prouty in the 1940s and 1950s, who theorized that they were formed by a meteor shower hitting the earth at an extreme angle. This dovetailed nicely with a Waccamaw Siouan legend that supposedly claimed that Lake Waccamaw was formed by “fires from the sky.”
The meteor theory lost academic support, because almost no meteorite fragments have been found anywhere near the Carolina bays; most meteorites in North Carolina show up in the central Piedmont region, where there are no Carolina bays. Alternate theories have suggested the bays were formed by glacial ice which flew all the way south when a really giant meteor landed near Hudson Bay in Canada in the Ice Age; or that they were formed by fragments of a comet, which is mostly ice.
Other theories have been nearly as bizarre; for example, that Carolina bays were formed by the fin action of schools of prehistoric fish when Eastern North Carolina was submerged by the Atlantic Ocean. The prevailing academic theory at the moment holds that they were formed by wave and wind action as the Atlantic shoreline receded tens of thousands of years ago.
For more information, see the “Carolina bays” article in The Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2006).
We haven’t heard any other theories on how Silver Lake itself was formed. If anyone knows anything, we’d love to hear it in the Comments below.
Date posted: August 23, 2012